Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Shepherd's Pie

Served in a cast-iron skillet.
It doesn't get more "down-home" than that.
As the weather gets colder, heartier meals seem to crop up on the menu more and more. Shepherd's pie is a dish that I'd probably never think to make when it's sunny and hot outside, but when the air gets cooler, it jumps to the forefront of my mind.

Traditional shepherd's pie would be made with mashed potatoes. Potatoes, of course, aren't on the paleo menu. Luckily, the fall and early winter months are a great time to find winter squashes. Butternut squash is great for making an alternative to mashed potatoes, and any of the other winter squashes (except spaghetti squash) would do a good job too. You could even use that pumpkin that's been sitting around decorating your house.

Nutritionally, this will be a little higher in carbohydrates than your average paleo meal. It's probably a good idea to eat this when you've had an active day if you're trying to lose weight. It's very filling, so I think you'd have a hard time eating too much of it, even though it's good enough that you may want to try.

I'm using a couple of lazy-man's ingredients in this one.

1 large butternut squash (or 2 smaller ones)
1 lb ground beef
10 oz. sliced mushrooms
3 cups beef stock
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced onions
1 cup diced celery
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp garlic powder


Cookie Sheet
Large, Oven-Safe Pan (Cast-Iron Skillet recommended)
Large Bowl (or Pot)
Potato Masher

Heat your oven to 375. Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. Place the halves cut-side-up on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven. They will take about an hour to cook, so plan accordingly.

These things are a pain to peal, but they can be scooped out easily once they're baked for a while.

The rest of this will take about 15-20 minutes, so you should probably start once the squash have been baking for about forty minutes.

Place an oven-safe pan over high heat. Add the hamburger to the pan, and cook it until it has browned.

Be sure to break up the hamburger as it cooks.

Once the hamburger has browned, remove it from the pan, but leave any liquid in the pan. A slotted spoon is a good tool for doing this. Add the sliced mushroom to the pan. Allow them to cook for about two minutes, stirring them occasionally.

I think these are cremini mushrooms (AKA "baby portabellas").
White mushrooms or chunks of full sized portabellas would also work.

Add one cup of the beef stock to the pan. Stir everything a few times to get anything that is stuck to the pan to dissolve in the stock.

Mushrooms are like sponges. In this case, we want them to soak up beefy goodness.

Continue cooking the mushrooms until the stock has almost disappeared.

This is what it should look like. Any stock left in the pan will be very thick.

Move the mushrooms to the sides of the pan. Add the carrot, celery, and onion to the middle of the pan. Allow them to cook for about a minute before stirring them into the mushrooms.

I bought my vegetables pre-chopped. I'm sure I paid a premium for it, but it was worth it.

Allow the vegetables and mushrooms to cook together for another 1-2 minutes, then add the tomato paste to the pan.

That's about half a can of tomato paste, which is kind of a weird amount,
but putting the whole can would make this into some sort of pasta sauce.

Add the beef back into the pan, along with another 1 1/2 cups of the stock. Add the salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and stir everything to combine the ingredients evenly.

You should also take this opportunity to flatten everything a little, so that the squash can sit on top.

Take the pan off of the heat while you prepare the squash.

To prepare the squash, take the halves out of the oven, and use a large spoon to scoop chunks of the meat out of the shells into a pot or large bowl. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of stock to the squash and use a potato masher to mash everything until it is smooth.

I like to use a pot because the straight sides make it easier to mash the squash.

Spread the mashed squash on top of the meat and vegetables in the pan. Try to completely and evenly cover the top.

A little of the sauce will bubble up around the edges.
You might want to put a cookie sheet under the pan to catch any escaping liquid.

Place the pan into the oven at 375 for about twenty minutes. The edges of the squash mixture will brown very slightly. Most of it will remain orange even when it's done.

  • I bought my carrot, onion, and celery pre-chopped because it was convenient. If you're chopping the vegetables yourself, you'll probably need about 2 large carrots, one medium onion, and two large ribs of celery.
  • If you want to use minced fresh garlic instead of garlic powder, I'd suggest using about 3 cloves.
  • I recommend lining your cookie sheet with parchment paper when cooking the butternut squash. It will make cleanup easier.
  • If you don't want to bake the squash, you can also cut it in half and cook it in the microwave. I can't say exactly how long it would take, but 10-15 minutes is probably about right. just cook it until it's soft.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Top Secret Paleo Chili

Chili isn't glamorous, but it is delicious.
You might think that just about any chili would be paleo. Sure, beans aren't paleo, but lots of chili recipes don't include beans, so that's no big deal, right? Well, even if you remove the beans from a standard chili recipe, you've got at least one more problem ingredient to worry about. You may not know it, but traditionally chili is thickened with something called masa. What's masa? Corn.

To be a little more specific, masa is a corn meal, much like polenta or grits. In a super-traditional chili recipe, you'd add it to the chili while it was cooking, and the starches in the corn would thicken everything nicely. If you, like me, normally think about those little packets of pre-mixed chili spices when you think of making chili, you should be aware that they contain corn too. It's not in the form of masa; it's included as corn starch. Corn starch does the same thing as masa, but doesn't let you feel superior about how "authentic" your chili recipe is.

Pretension aside, how should you thicken your chili without resorting to some kind of corn product? Basically, don't let it get thin to begin with. This recipe uses tomato paste, which is nice and thick to begin with, so the only thing you have to do is avoid thinning it out by getting over zealous with the beef stock.

Also, since pre-made chili powders are pretty much out, I've mixed together some seasoning of my own. There's a good bit of chipotle pepper in this recipe, so it's going to be a little spicy. I have a hard time judging how other people are going to react to a little spice, but Miriam gave this one the thumbs-up, so you should be fine.

Super secret ingredient not pictured (for secrecy).


3.5 - 4 lbs. beef chuck roast
1 cup beef stock
1 tbsp garlic powder
3 tbsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp chipotle chile powder
1 tbsp cumin
1/2 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp salt
6oz can of tomato paste
2 cups salsa
1 tsp hot sauce
1oz. super secret ingredient (to be revealed later)


Crock Pot

Since this is chili (and not pot roast), the first thing you need to do is cut the chuck roast into small pieces. Try to make the pieces as close to half-inch cubes as possible.

Bite-sized is the goal. Picking up steak-sized chunks with a spoon ruins the chili experience

In a pan over very high heat, brown the meat a little at a time. You will probably need to do it in  four to six portions to avoid crowding the pan. As each portion is browned, you can add it to the crock pot.

It's important to have lots of room in the pan so that the meat doesn't stew.

Once all of the meat is browned, pour the beef stock into the pan and "deglaze" it. Pour the stock from the pan into the crock pot with the beef.

In other words, scrape the bits of meat off the bottom of the pan so that they're floating in the stock.
"Deglazing" just sounds more appetizing.

Combine the garlic powder, smoked paprika, chipotle chile powder, cumin, black pepper, and salt. mix them together so that the seasoning will be even throughout the chili.

If you double all the spices, you can save half in an airtight container for next time.

Add the combined spices to the crock pot along with the tomato paste, salsa, and hot sauce.

Now, it's time to reveal the super secret ingredient:

Unsweetened Baking Chocolate - You know you've got it kicking around your cabinets; it's time to use it.

Adding one ounce of unsweetened baking chocolate to a pot of chili makes a small but delicious difference. So, if you've got it, use it and start dropping hints that your chili recipe is "Top Secret."

See? The chocolate's so secret it's trying to hide in an out-of-focus part of the picture.

Once you've added all of the ingredients (secret or otherwise) to the crock pot, mix everything together and set the crock pot on high for four to six hours. After that, you can turn the crock pot to low and hold it indefinitely before serving. Just stir everything together one last time before putting it into bowls.

Where's my horse? I feel the need to rustle some cattle.

  • It doesn't really matter what kind of salsa you use. I chose a chipotle flavored one that had all natural ingredients since I was trying to keep it totally paleo. Use your favorite. Also, two cups is the amount of salsa in most standard jars of salsa, so you'll probably be able to just throw the whole jar in without measuring.
  • This chili is a little spicy. If you want to tone it down, here are some suggestions: Use mild salsa. Leave out the hot sauce. Substitute more smoked paprika for the chipotle pepper powder. That's about as mild as it's possible to be.
  • Miriam suggested that some people might not like just having a big bowl of meat. I thought she was crazy. If you're crazy too, you can try adding 16 oz. of mushrooms to the recipe. Just cook them in the pan until they're soft before adding them to the crock pot.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Coconut Curry Chicken Salad

I don't usually like the lettuce/bun substitution, but here it works.
Chicken salad is one of those dishes that's always the same, but always different. On paper, chicken salad is pretty much always chopped chicken, some sort of fat, some spices, and a few add-ins. In the real world, the possible variations on the theme mean that you never get the same chicken salad twice. For this recipe, I decided to take the idea of a coconut curry dish and use it to make a chicken salad recipe that's one notch more exotic than average.

The thing that keeps most chicken salad recipes from being paleo is actually the mayonnaise. Store-bought mayonnaise is almost always made with some sort of highly processed franken-fat that your body can't handle properly. I've side-stepped the mayonnaise problem here by using coconut oil as the fat in this recipe. The curry powder doesn't exactly give this dish an authentic curry flavor, but it does put it in the same general category of flavors that you can expect from your average local Indian buffet.

Nutritionally, this dish is all protein and fat. I'm not sure that a reasonable portion of it has even one whole gram of carbohydrates, so if you're looking for a dish that will help you make room in your diet for that square of dark chocolate, this might help you out.

I swear that raw chicken was not actually touching any of the other ingredients.
It just looks like it might be because of the angle of the picture.


4 chicken breasts
1 small onion
1 cup fresh cilantro
1 lime
1/2 cup coconut oil
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp dried ginger
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup walnut pieces
salt and pepper to taste
a few tablespoons of additional coconut oil for frying


Food Processor
Large Bowl

Start by cooking the chicken. In a large pan, heat a few tablespoons of coconut oil over medium-high heat. When the pan gets hot, cook the chicken breasts for about 5-6 minutes per side. Depending on the thickness of the meat, you'll need to adjust the cooking time to make sure that the chicken is completely done. Check the inside of the meat by using a knife to make a small slice into the thickest part of the breast.
Don't crowd the breasts together too much or they'll just kind of stew.
I could only get three at a time into my pan.

After the chicken is cooked, set it aside and let it cool while you prepare the other ingredients. In a food processor, chop the onion and cilantro. The onion should be finely chopped before you add the next set of ingredients.

I love using the food processor to chop things. It's so much faster than doing it by hand.

After chopping the onion and cilantro, add the zest and juice from the lime, the coconut oil, the curry powder, the ginger, and the garlic powder to the food processor.

I generally prefer fresh ginger over dried,
but it can be a little fibrous if you're making something smooth like this.

Process everything until it's smooth.
This will be thicker than mayonnaise. It's more like a cream cheese consistency.

Add the mixture to a large bowl. Chop the chicken into small pieces (I did it by pulsing the chicken in the food processor a few times, but you could do it with a knife) and add it to the bowl as well. Add the walnuts to the bowl, and mix everything together evenly.

I like my chicken finely chopped, which is why I do it in the food processor.
Using a knife will give you a chunkier chicken salad.

Taste the chicken salad and add salt and pepper as necessary.

  • I served this on the leaves from some hearts of romaine. The ridge on the back of a romaine lettuce leaf provides some structure and allows you to hold the lettuce and chicken salad like a hot dog without everything falling out.
  • The amount of salt and pepper you add is up to you. Every brand of curry powder is slightly different, and some of them have salt added already. That's why I recommend tasting the chicken salad before you decide how much salt it needs.
  • There's no reason not to do this recipe with leftover chicken. Unless you have a lot of leftover chicken, though, you'll probably need to adjust the quantities of the other ingredients.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Paleo Sliders

You will eat more than three. I guarantee it.
The other night at the gym, we had a paleo potluck, which meant that I needed to come up with a tasty paleo dish that would taste good, travel easily, and lend itself to being eaten while standing around. The chicken poppers are a good choice, but I'd made those for the last potluck and I wanted to do something different. In what was basically a flash of inspiration, I came up with the idea for these paleo sliders. (Seriously, I was just standing there and the idea for these just popped, fully formed, into my head. I have no idea why.)

They ended up being a big hit. Even better, I'm confident that these would be awesome even at a party that wasn't specifically paleo. They taste like little hamburgers, and only crazy people don't like little hamburgers. If you're partying with crazy people, I can't really do anything about that.

Nutritionally, I say eat as many of these as you can stuff in your gaping maw. They're high in protein and low in carbohydrates, and if you bring a bunch to your next potluck, they may just help you stay out of that enormous cheese-and-cracker tray.

I guess you could make these without bacon, but if you do, it means the terrorists have won.


4 slices of bacon
1 - 1 1/12 lb ground beef
1/2 large onion
1 egg
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
approximately 1/4 head of green leaf lettuce
approximately 1 pint of grape tomatoes
approximately 1/3 jar of dill pickle slices


Large Pan
Food Processor (Recommended)
Sieve (Recommended)
Paper Towel or Coffee Filter (to drain the onion)
Large Bowl
Draining Rig
Skewers (Or Extra-Long Toothpicks)

Start by chopping the bacon into small pieces.

The colder your bacon is, the easier it will be to cut.

Place the bacon into a cold pan, and place the pan over medium heat. Cook the bacon pieces over medium heat, stirring frequently until the pieces are browned and crisp.

Starting the bacon in a cold pan means that as much bacon fat as possible will be in the pan
when you're done.That's important for cooking the meatballs.

Remove the bacon from the pan and allow it to drain. Leave as much of the bacon fat in the pan as possible. Take the pan off of the heat while assembling the meatballs.

If you forget to take the pan off of the heat, it will help keep your firefighter friends employed,
but it won't be good for your homeowner's insurance rates.

Mince the onion as finely as possible. I recommend putting the onion into a food processor and processing it until it looks like apple sauce. You could also use a fine cheese grater to grate the onion if you don't have a food processor.

Drain as much liquid from the onion as possible. I recommend placing a paper towel or coffee filter into a seive and letting the minced onion sit in the seive, suspended over a bowl.

If you don't get most of the liquid out of the onion, it will make your meatballs fall apart.

Once the onion is drained, place it into a large bowl along with the bacon, ground beef, egg, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Use your hands to combine everything until the mixture is even.

It's a little messy, but clean hands are really the easiest way to mix this kind of thing together.

Using a small disher or a tablespoon, portion the meat mixture into small meatballs. Use your hands to make them round if necessary.

It's OK if they're not perfect spheres. They're going to flatten a little in the pan anyway.

Place the pan with the bacon grease in it over medium-high heat. Cook the meatballs, a few at a time, in the bacon grease until they are browned on all sides. Rotate them about every two minutes. You will need to rotate them either once or twice, depending on how much grease is in the pan.

I ended up with a lot of bacon grease, so I only had to turn mine once.

Once each batch of meatballs finishes cooking, move them to a draining rig. Continue cooking batches of meatballs until they are all done.

Try to leave as much grease in the pan as possible, but the rig will help make sure that
your finished sliders aren't sitting in a plate of fat.

To assemble the skewers, you first need to rip the lettuce into small pieces. Each piece should just cover the top of a meatball. Once you have the lettuce ripped into enough pieces to cover the meatballs, assemble the skewers. For each skewer, stick the skewer through a tomato, then through a pickle slice, and then through a piece of lettuce. Then stick the skewer into a meatball.

The order of these is kind of important. Having it go "meatball, lettuce, pickle, tomato"
means that the meatball and the tomato help hold everything together.

I recommend having your serving dish handy so that you can place each slider on the dish as you finish it.

  • The amounts in this recipe will be enough for about two dozen sliders. That's enough for a very small potluck (maybe 6-8 people). I tripled the recipe when I made them. There is one tricky ingredient if you multiply this recipe. Do not double the egg if you double the recipe. Only use two eggs if you triple the recipe. Add another egg for every two pounds of meat after that.
  • The meatballs in this recipe are a great basic meatball. I wanted them to taste like hamburgers, so I didn't go crazy with the spices. You could use them in any meatball recipe and they would be pretty good. You could also substitute a fancier meatball in this recipe if you wanted to.
  • If you make these ahead of time, don't stick the skewers into the meatballs. Instead, assemble the skewers with the tomato, pickle, and lettuce and refrigerate everything. Then, right before you serve them, heat up the meatballs and stick the assembled skewers in.
  • Be careful what kind of pickles you use for these. Dill slices seem to be pretty good, but every bread-and-butter pickle I looked at was loaded with high fructose corn syrup.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Spicy Ginger Beef

Cheap, delicious, and ready in under an hour.
I think I've adequately established the fact that I love steak, so I won't revisit the theme here. Instead, I'll tell you one of the few unfortunate things about steak - it can get pricey. Ribeyes, T-bones and filets are all delicious, but they can wear a hole in your wallet. So, every good steak lover on a budget needs to have a few go-to recipes for the cheaper cuts of meat. Braises and stews can turn just about any gristly cut of haunch into a delicious feast, but they usually take a while. Being a pathological procrastinator, I often find myself trying to throw together a dinner in about an hour or less, and there are few recipes more disappointing than a rushed potroast. What's a hurried carnivore to do?

This recipe fills the void. It's a simple combination of meat selection, basic grilling technique, and clever slicing. The result is a delicious stack of tender beef slices that are great as a main course for dinner, and are equally awesome over a salad for lunch the next day. As a bonus, as far as I can tell this meal doesn't set off Miriam's "steak again??!!" alarm, so I can serve it pretty much whenever I feel like it.

Kosher salt is important for this recipe. Table salt doesn't work quite the same way.


1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp ground ginger (the dried type, not fresh)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 1/2 to 3 lbs beef bottom round (often sold as "london broil")


Grill or Grill Pan

Combine all of the spices in a container with a lid. Shake them to combine.

I used one of the containers from my magic bullet blender.

Evenly coat all sides of the meat with the spices. Use your hands to rub the spices into the meat just a little.

Just rub the spices in enough to make sure they stick.

If you have time, put the seasoned meat into a large plastic bag and let it sit in the refrigerator for about an hour. This step is optional, but it will improve the flavor if you have time for it. If you put the meat in the refrigerator, let it come back up to room temperature before grilling it.

Doing this is kind of like marinating the meat.

Heat up your grill or grill pan. Let it get very hot, and then start grilling the meat directly over high heat.

This is part one of the grilling process.

Grill the meat for about 4 minutes per side over high heat, and then move the meat to lower heat. If you're using a grill, move the meat to the coolest part of the grill and close the lid. If you're using a grill pan, you can either turn the heat to low and cover everything with some aluminum foil or finish the meat in the oven. Cook the meat for an additional 10 minutes over low heat.

I moved the meat to the warming rack and closed the lid on my grill.

Remove the meat from the heat and let it rest for 5 minutes before slicing it.

Have you ever eaten a steak, and by the time you were done
it looked like someone spilled a beverage on your plate? If so, it's because the meat wasn't
allowed to rest.

Slice the meat at an angle. Make your slices thin, and cut the meat at roughly a 45 degree angle relative to the cutting board.

Slicing the meat on an angle is the single most important thing about this recipe.

  • The way you slice this meat is more important than anything else about this recipe. You can change the spices or cook the meat more or less, but if you don't want to chew your dinner for an hour, you MUST slice this particular cut of meat at an angle. In a nutshell, you need to slice it this way to cut the muscle fibers in the meat. Shorter muscle fibers are easier to chew than longer ones, meaning the slices of meat are more tender when sliced on an angle.
  • The cooking time that I mentioned above will give you medium rare beef. If you would like to cook your meat more than that, I suggest lengthening the amount of time that the meat spends over low heat, rather than the time that it spends over high heat.
  • If you finish the meat in the oven, I would suggest setting it to about 350.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Acorn Squash With Sausage Stuffing

Bowls you can eat are always more fun than bowls you can't
I know what you're thinking. "Isn't acorn squash more of an autumn dish?" Well, let me tell you something - I'm a rebel. I don't let myself be constrained by the seasons. Strawberries in winter? Apples in the spring? Acorn squash in July? You bet. Someone, somewhere, is growing everything all the time. I know that eating local is all the rage these days, and it's a movement that I generally support, but I'm not going to let the fact that my acorn squash was grown in another hemisphere deter me from enjoying it.

Besides, I had some italian sausage that I needed to use, and I haven't done a sausage stuffing in a while. You could certainly use something else to hold the stuffing, but acorn squash has always been my favorite vehicle for this.

Nutritionally, acorn squash is similar to sweet potatoes. It's got carbohydrates, but it's not going to send you spiraling into a sugar coma. Eating the squash along with the sausage stuffing helps, because the protein, fat, and fiber in the stuffing will cause you to absorb the carbohydrates more slowly.

This is one of those times when the ingredients have started hanging off the cutting board.
It always makes me worry that the recipe is too complicated.


2 acorn squash
1 carrot
2 stalks celery
1 small onion
2 cups mushrooms
1 lb italian sausage
1/2 cup pecans
2 cups cauliflower rice
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste


Baking Sheet
Aluminum Foil (recommended)
Large Bowl

Preheat your oven to 350.

Cut each acorn squash in half from stem to tip, and scoop the seeds from the middle.

People tell me you can clean the seeds and roast them for a snack. People tell me a lot of crazy stuff.

Place the halves cut side up on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil. Bake them for 30 minutes while you prepare the stuffing.

Pre-baking them makes sure that they get tender without burning the stuffing.

Chop the carrot, celery, and onion. You should aim to have roughly quarter inch cubes of each.

Fancy French cooking term for this: mirepoix

Cut the mushrooms into small pieces (just a little larger than the carrot, celery, and onion)

I used cremini mushrooms, but white button mushrooms are fine.

Place a pan over medium-high heat and add the sausage to it. If your sausage is in casings, remove it from the casings before adding it to the pan. Break up the sausage as it cooks.

I used mild italian sausage this time, but I think the hot kind is better.

When the sausage is browned, move it to a large bowl. Add the carrot, celery, and onion to the pan. Cook them until the celery and onion become translucent. (About five minutes)

You should be "sweating" the vegetables. That means if you see the onion start to turn brown, you need to lower the heat.

When the vegetables are done, move them to the bowl with the sausage. Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook them for about five minutes, until they are soft and browned slightly. Move them to the bowl. Also add the cauliflower rice and pecans to the bowl.

In my old age, I forgot to take a picture of the mushrooms cooking,
so here's a picture of everything in the bowl instead.

Allow the contents of the bowl to cool for about two minutes. Then, scramble the egg in a small bowl and add it to the large bowl with the other ingredients. Add a little salt and pepper, and mix everything together.

When they have cooked for 30 minutes, remove the acorn squash from the oven and add the stuffing to the middle of each half. Lightly pack the stuffing in as you add it, and mound it above the top of the squash.

Turn your oven up to 425 and bake the stuffed squashes for 15-20 minutes. When they are done, you should be able to insert the tip of a knife into the meat of the squash with very little resistance.

The top of the stuffing will brown a little.

  • If you use the quantities in this recipe, you may be able to stuff three squashes instead of two. It kind of depends on the size of the squash and how high you mound the stuffing.
  • Using aluminum foil on the baking sheet isn't strictly necessary, but it makes cleaning up a lot easier.
  • I'd recommend using hot italian sausage for this recipe if you can. The mild kind is fine, but I think the hot kind would make things a little better.
  • If your halves won't sit with their cut sides upright, you can use a little aluminum foil to prop them up. Just make little aluminum foil donuts and sit the halves in the middle of them.